Learning by ear and developing your own practise

I think that learning by ear and remembering the tune go hand in hand – that’s not to say you can’t remember a tune that you’ve learned from the written music, but rather that learning a tune by ear gives you a head start.  Here’s why:

When we learn by ear, we are learning in a way that always us to internalise the tune – we’re not reading or relying on an external source but rather the whole thing is in our heads, at least for a bit, which is to say it’s in our short-term memory.  Internalising the tune is step one in remembering it in the longer term.

From there we need to reinforce and repeat the tune over time to help to move it from our short-term to our long-term memory.  If you dive for the sheet music as soon as it’s available, then you are letting go of that internalisation and you are far less likely to remember it in the longer term. Don’t be afraid to forget the tune.  Seriously.  You probably won’t forget all of it but if you do then you are much better off relearning it from the video or from an audio source – the second time of learning will be much quicker than the first time, the third time will be even quicker again as you strengthen the neural pathways in the brain. 

By all means refer to the music if you need to check a note or to remind yourself of what note the B section starts on but try to avoid cleaving to the dots for fear of forgetting, as you need to partially forget and relearn a tune several times before it’s fully internalised and in your long-term memory.  Building this kind of recall is a process and if a tune isn’t all there, that just means that you’re not done yet. 

Experimenting with the ornamentation and variations that we cover in class is a great way work on tune recall as it demands that you repeat and reinforce the tune many times in a creative and proactive way that really gets you inside the tune and understanding it (internalisation), also allowing you to develop your own way of playing. 

Another benefit of relying on audio sources rather than written music is that you will start to hear the rhythmic and stylistic nuances of the music that simply can’t be expressed effectively in written music.  I often throw in extra elements for the more experienced players to try – the more you listen the more you will hear.  I’m generally unable to create website posts until later in the week, so making your own recordings at key points in class is encouraged!

Folk music by its nature consists of communal ownership of material (a shared repertoire of traditional tunes) and personal agency (individual expression and interpretation).  I try to design exercises and tasks to empower people in both aspects of the genre, but this does demand a proactive, independent approach.  I hope this post makes all of this a bit clearer! 

Classes are returning to the WLTUC

Classes will be returning to the West London Trade Union Club from September 20th 2021. Doors will open at 7:15 for 7:30, as before, running to 9:15 with a short break at 8:15. The price has gone up to £10 per session, with a small discount for those paying yearly or termly. In this coming Autumn term, there will be a focus on musicianship, arrangement and ensemble skills using repertoire from last year’s online sessions. The tunes for Monday 20th September will be Dory Boat and Rig a Jig Jig. Finally, we have the following guidelines in place, for the safety of all:

1. Please don’t come to class if you’re feeling unwell. Symptoms of the Delta variant can be quite different from the classic Covid symptoms, so do check the NHS website even if you feel sure that you know what they are.  

2. If you’re able to, take a lateral flow test on a Monday. These are free from pharmacies or can be ordered online – this is voluntary, not mandatory, and you don’t need to report your results to me, though do report them on the NHS website.

3. Please wash your hands on arrival.   

4. I will clean surfaces when I arrive, including door handles, chairs and light switches.  

5. Windows will be open for ventilation, so you might want to bring a jumper! 

6. Although the requirement to socially distance has been removed, it makes sense to continue giving each other space. I will look at the way the chairs are arranged to optimize the space.

7. I’ll check whether the WLTUC has a QR code that we can use to check in. 

8. Finally, if you feel that you’d personally like to take further measures, such as wearing a mask, please do.  It’s important that we all feel safe, and if there are any aspects of class you’re not comfortable with, please speak to me and I’ll do my best to accommodate your needs. 

Herbert Smith’s Four-Handed Reel

Here is the tune from January 18th’ class, Herbert Smith’s Four-Handed Reel. Despite the title it is a polka – the ‘four-handed reel’ refers to a dance figure and not to the nature of the tune! It goes rather nicely with Grandfather’s Tune and has a similar descending scale pattern that gives lots of opportunities for turns and triplets, as discussed last week. You can also vary the rhythm in the B part, sub-dividing or combining the notes in bars X , Y and Z.

This tune is a little unusual in that it has an extra two beats in the A music. It might be that this was added on purpose to help dancers get to where they need to be in the dance, or it might just be a quirk that caught on!

Herbert Smith (1892-1961) was known as the Fiddling Blacksmith of Blakeney – you can read about him here: https://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/h_smith.htm

Here’s a slower and a faster version of the tune:

And here are the dots, with the first set of chords:

Here’s the PDFs of the tune, and the alternative set of chords:

Furze Field

A gorgeous tune to go with Cumberland Waltz. Furze is another word for gorse, and this tune/song was collected in Hampshire in 1907 from Moses Mills. I’ve included a recording of the Watersons singing it at the bottom of the page, there the tune to the song is a little different from our tune. Here is a video with a slow and faster play through:

Here are the dots:

Here’s a PDF of the basic tune and chords:

We experimented by adding some turns in passages where the melody moved down by step, and added rhythmic variation by subdividing the last note of some bars. These were either just subdivided (blue), or else the second of note of the pair was changed to a D (red) as this fitted the chords, as is very satisfying on the fiddle! The effect is that you create more rhythmic movement and some forward momentum into the next bar. Here is a link to an example – it’s not a definitive version, it’s just one set of options and the idea is to experiment and come up with various placements that you like:

Classes remain online until the end of October

Following this week’s governmental rulings about meetings of groups of six or more, we will not be meeting in person for classes.  After much mental wrangling, I think that the best and safest thing to do is to keep our classes online.  We’ll reassess at half term, which is the end of October.  I’m really disappointed but don’t think I can justify the risk to all of you or to myself.  Please keep safe, and if you’re not on the list for the Zoom invite, let me know and I’ll email it to you.

Bonus post: two note chords on the fiddle

Here are some videos talking about how to play accompanying chords on the fiddle, as requested last week.  The first two videos are explanations, there are then some hastily drawn chord shapes, and finally some ACapella videos demonstrating the chord sequences and rhythms in context.

Video one – basic chords and rhythms, using Step Back as a reference:

Video Two – slightly more difficult chords and some other things to consider, using Idbury Hill as a reference.  Also, I turned the lights on.

 

Here are some pictures of the chord shapes:

 

And finally, the shuffle ideas in context: